So you have a new blog and now you’re wondering how to make it look cool. Hopefully you followed my guide on how to start a blog. Now you want to install a theme…
The official WordPress repository has hundreds of themes for your blog. But how do you pick one?
But what about the themes in the WordPress.org website? How can you go about picking one of the good ones?
Before I continue with the answer to this question, I should mention that when you use Siteground as your web host, you have a lot of themes available for free and most of these are good and if you run into a problem Siteground will be able to help you. You can check them out here: WordPress themes for Siteground.
To start, visit the repository and go to the WordPress themes section. You can also do most of this from your dashboard in your WordPress blog if you go to the Appearance and Themes section, then click on Add new.
You can then search for a theme, or use some of the filters available to show you what you’re looking for.
There are three pre-built filters for you to use:
- Featured – These are suggested and featured for a period of time. You could use one of these.
- Popular – These themes are popular over time, good ratings and pretty good for the most part. You are safe using these.
- Latest – These are the newest themes created for the WordPress.org repository. You might want to stay away from these as a beginner blogger.
There is also the Feature Filter option that allows you to refine your search with options that are more interesting to you.
If you don’t know what options you should pick, the next screenshot shows you what I think are the most important features to look for in a theme.
- Responsive Layout – This means your blog will be mobile friendly and it should be one of your top priorities.
- Custom Menu – This means your blog supports a custom menu that you can edit to your liking.
- Featured Images – This means that your blogposts can be displayed with a featured image to attract more attention.
- Theme Options – This means that you can customize the theme without a lot of coding. The only downside to this is that the theme can have a lot or a few theme options.
Of course, the last part about picking a theme is selecting one that you like. Click through the images and see which ones catch your eye. If you are looking at the themes from your blog dashboard, you can also install a theme and preview it on your blog before you activate it.
Once you have decided on a theme you want to use there are a few signals you need to look at before you commit to using a theme.
Like products and places you should look at the ratings and see how they stack up. But this is not the end all be all.
A theme may have 5 out of 5 stars but only 6 ratings. This is NOT a sure sign that the theme is good. It also doesn’t mean it’s bad, but most likely it’s just new, like the screenshot below.
A theme may have 4 out of 5 stars and 75 reviews. This is much better!
Be careful with themes that have a high number of 5 star ratings as well. A perfect score always triggers my spidey senses because no theme is perfect!
I look for a rating between 3.5 and 4.5 at least with a good amount of downloads, which we’ll talk about next.
The number of downloads
Unlike theme ratings, there is no hard-set number of downloads that maks a theme “good” but a high number of downloads and then consistent weekly download count afterwards is usually a positive sign.
For example, a brand new theme may get 1000 downloads when it is released, but only 10 – 20 downloads every week after that. That is not a good sign.
This means that the theme looked great at first, or a lot of people tried it out at first but probably aren’t using it or don’t want it anymore.
As a beginner blogger, you don’t necessarily want to be an early adopter on a new theme. It could be buggy, have problems or it could be abandoned soon after its release.
Look for a large number of downloads, maybe 10,000 or more and a consistent number of downloads week after week.
This indicates that new people are downloading the theme, and that people that already have it continue to update it when a new version comes out instead of switching to another theme.
Generally the spikes in downloads that you see are related to when the theme was updated.
Frequency of updates
This one is important. You want the theme that you use to get regular updates so make sure the theme you’re looking at has been updated recently.
Generally, you want to make sure that the last update was done after the last update to WordPress itself. This indicates that the theme has been updated to match any changes made to the blog software.
Sometimes theme authors update their themes as frequently as once a week. This indicates that the theme is being looked after but it could also introduce changes that may affect your blog in ways you don’t want to.
Just like with ratings and number of downloads, look for consistent updates.
It’s a little more difficult to find out about the update schedule of a theme. In the theme page, look on the bottom right hand corner for Development Log and click that.
This will open up a pretty technical screen. Don’t be intimidated by it, you’re looking for the frequency at which the theme gets updates. Like this:
You don’t need to know a whole lot about this screen, but you’ll notice the 2 columns that are most important in this case: Age and Log Message.
Age shows you how long ago the theme was update, and if you hold your mouse over the link, you’ll see a small pop-up indicating the exact date. This is not too important, but if you wanted to know exactly when a theme was updated this will show you.
The Log Message just indicates the type of update, in the screenshot it shows all of the messages are just updates and it shows the new version of the theme.
You also want to see if the theme has support from the author or if you will have to find answers to questions all on your own.
Before I finish this answer off, I should mention that you should NEVER download free themes from the internet without the recommendation of a professional. Themes that you can find on Google or Yahoo could have viruses or malware so I recommend you stick to free themes from the WordPress.org repository or the ones that you get with Siteground when you get an account with them as I indicated at the beginning of the guide.